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3’s A Charm

20 October, 2010 2 comments

I wasn’t going to do this while I was home… but those who know me must have known I wouldn’t be able to resist ;o)

It’s been a few days since I returned to the fold, and they’ve been bliss. Family and friends, music and looking forward to more of the same over the remaining week.

Why am I posting then? Well, having been away I haven’t been able to pay as much attention to new music as I’d like so, over the last few days, I’ve taken the opportunity to give some new releases the attention they deserve. There have been many, and some I’ve yet to listen to, but 3 in particular have been given the full treatment, lights off, volume up, AKGs on…

I had one of them sent to me in Afghanistan but I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserved (and believe me, it needs attention!) out there, the other two were waiting patiently on my desk when I returned home.

First up, ‘The Big Red Spark‘ from the world’s smallest progressive rock band, Tinyfish. This is a hard one. Despite knowing one of the members I’d heard very little of Tinyfish’s previous material and so had no bar against which to measure. Perhaps this is a good thing as I doubt anything that’s gone before could have been compared to this. A concept album in every way ‘The Big Red Spark‘ can, in my opinion at least, only ever be listened to in its entirety (discounting the 4 extra tracks on the bonus DVD in the version I received).

Cover art from Tinyfish's The Big Red Spark

The Big Red Spark

There’s a flow to the album which demands that you follow the curve, to jump into ‘I’m Not Crashing‘ without having heard the previous 18 minutes or so would diminish the experience to the point of negating the whole thing. With this in mind I find myself drawing comparisons between ‘The Big Red Spark‘ and another concept album I have to listen to in its entirety, Marillion‘s Brave. Now, I’m not saying that Tinyfish are similar to Marillion by any means (although the influence of Mr Rothery is more than apparent in the guitar playing of Jim Sanders), I just feel that there is a similar impetus to the album. Both are dark concepts however Tinyfish manage to portray the darkness and concern of the ‘doomsday’ machine while retaining a levity to the music. It’s this juxtaposition of concept and performance which I find most intriguing, and it’s this which makes it works so well.

Next up was an album I’ve been waiting on since I heard of its release very early this year. Alter Bridge have already released an album which is up there in my favourites, 2007’s Blackbird, and expectations for this, their 3rd release, were high. I’d heard a couple of tracks from AB III

Cover art from Alter Bridge's AB III

AB III

prior to it’s release, the single ‘Isolation‘ which was available to stream from the Roadrunner website  and the ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings‘ which was available as a free download for 24 hours from the same site prior to the album’s release. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed on my first listen, but then perhaps day 1 of R&R wasn’t the right time to try it out… but then I listened again and felt the same. Oh dear! Not one to jump to conclusions I waited a couple of days and set myself down in a quiet room with my headphones and tried again. This time it clicked, the power of Mark Tremonti‘s riffs is dumbfounding, the dynamics, the breaks, the arrangements are outstanding and Myles Kennedy‘s voice is, as ever, quite simply staggering. In retrospect I think the difficulty I had at first was that I was expecting a Blackbird II, or at the very least something which resembled a mixture of One Day Remains and Blackbird, but ‘AB III‘ is something completely different. As stated by the band the subject matter of this album is for more introspective and, as a result, it also smacks of a darkness not found in the previous offerings. Highlights for me would include the opening couplet of ‘Slip Into The Void‘ and ‘Isolation‘ along with ‘All Hope Is Gone‘ and the storming ‘I Know It Hurts‘, but to pick these out is an injustice to what is, finally, a tour de force in the catalogue of what is fast becoming one of my favourite rock bands of the new millennium.

And now for something completely different…

It may come as a surprise to many that, despite my various links to the band, and my predilection for the style of music they play, I have never owned an original release by Mostly Autumn. Shocking I know, but it’s the truth! Yes, I’ve seen them live on several occasions and yes, I know several of the current members very well (not least Andy Smith who plays bass in Morpheus Rising!) but I quite simply have never purchased anything they’ve released.

Well, I’m glad to say that’s now all changed. I’m one of the individuals who pre-ordered ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘, Mostly Autumn’s first album with Liv Sparnenn as lead vocalist.

Cover art from Go Well Diamond Heart

Go Well Diamond Heart

I had no choice really, Liv collared me at one of the Morpheus Rising gigs earlier this year and ordered me to buy it as some of the content would ‘mean’ something to me? And she wasn’t wrong. ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘ has a theme running through it, not a concept as such, merely a common thread to several of the lyrics interspersed with some of the band’s more usual ethereal fair. The title track is dedicated to Ben Parkinson, a member of 7 RHA, who was caught in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan while ‘And Now The War Is Over…‘ could have been written for any serving member of the Armed Forces who have served in any conflict. The album has something for every kind of MA fan, there’s the acoustic folky feel to tracks such as ‘Violet Skies‘ and ‘Deep in Borrowdale‘, the straight forward rock of  ‘Something Better‘ to the grandiose of the title track and ‘Ice‘ (included on the 2nd CD only available with the pre-order). Knowing members of the band I’m only too aware of the amount of work which was involved in producing this album and the end result is a testament to every minute of it. Emerging from 13 years with Heather Findlay as the lead female vocalist this album could have been lost somewhere in the ‘in between years’ while the band found their feet. I’m glad it hasn’t, and I’m glad I broke the cycle and bought this album, it’s a diamond.

3 great albums which will each rate highly in my 2010 rankings, but 3 very different experiences.

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A Female God* and Falling Angels

20 September, 2010 Leave a comment

Having meandered from the true path of music, in all its forms, in the last post I’m about to return with a vengeance to the reason this blog was created but…

Before I do I’d like to discuss one more song which smacks me straight in the face every time I hear it.

Now, before I go any further I must emphasise that, despite being a ‘modern man’, I am not really that into ‘chick flicks’ as they are called, but every now and then something comes along which really has an impact. Most recently it was ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife‘ and others would be ‘Meet Joe Black‘ or even ‘The Champ’ (but that’s going back a way… But of these, none comes close to the sheer splendour of a film about an Angel choosing to fall from grace in order to feel love.

City of Angels‘ has something special about it, a quality I can’t describe or quantify, and it doesn’t diminish no matter how often I revisit the film.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because it is such a powerful song in its own right, I have developed a great feeling for the song performed by Alanis Morrissette for the soundtrack.

Uninvited‘ is a haunting track using the passion created by strings to great effect over a simple keyboard and percussion setting. Perhaps better known now as the dance version released by Bailey Tzuke (I can appreciate both versions), the original is something quite special. Even before I took the time to listen to the awkwardly phrased lyrics (part of its charm?) I felt the pain and anguish it portrayed. Having taken the time to listen to the lyrics I can’t believe how accurately they reflect the emotion of the film’s primary characters

Like any uncharted territory I must seem greatly intriguing
You speak of my love like you have experienced love like mine before
But this is not allowed
You’re uninvited

I’ve often tried to express emotions like these in song and, as far as I’m aware, I’ve never succeeded. Songwriting comes in many forms, as my (soon to be teenage) youngest daughter, herself an avid singer/songwriter already, explained to me recently; there are moment songs, feeling songs and story songs. I think I have cracked the latter, and I’m sure I’ve dabbled in the first (I’ll need to check with her first I think!), but the middle one always seems to elude me, because of this I think I respect those who can achieve it so eloquently all the more. And Alanis Morrissette has done it here with such eloquence I’m speechless… well, not quite ;o)

* I do not consider Alanis Morrissette a deity before anyone starts a pogrom, I’m merely nodding to her cameo role in Dogma, a film I’m usually far more willing to admit to liking!

War Songs, Pt. 3: Watching…

9 September, 2010 Leave a comment
Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Barcelona 3-6-08

Image via Wikipedia

I was going to wait until the weekend until I posted this, however, as I heard the new single ‘Isolation‘ today, pre-ordered ABIII and ordered tickets for the Birmingham show in October (Yes! I’ll actually be home for a gig!) I thought I might as well make it Alter Bridge day!

Some songs embed themselves in your psyche. Not those songs that hook themselves into your consciousness for a day, but those which you hear and they immediately mean something to you. It doesn’t even necessarily have to coincide with the sentiment of the song. It’s personal, and it’s special.

One such song for me is ‘Watch Over You‘ by Alter Bridge. The reincarnation of Creed, a band whose lyrics I always found insightful perhaps due to my faith or perhaps just due to their skillful creation, were something of an unknown to me when the first album was released.  One Day Remains was very much ‘Creed with a new vocalist’  however Blackbird, their 2007 follow-up, was something entirely different. Myles Kennedy stamped his authority on this one, and then some. His vocal style and breadth of range never cease to amaze me and he is one of a handful of lyricists whose work I wish I could call my own. Tracks such as ‘Blackbird‘, ‘One By One’ and ‘Before Tomorrow Comes‘ are as fresh now, 3 years on, as they were when I first heard them. Thoughts such as

Will I be defined by things which could’ve been, I guess time can only tell

are with us all, and yet they are so hard to write. But of the songs on both albums ‘Watch Over Me‘, in both its original form and as a duet with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, means far more to me than the simple lyric can.

Leaves are on the ground, Fall hs come
Blue skies turning grey, like my love
I try to carry you, and make you whole
But it was never enough I must go

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

You say you care for me but hide it well
How can you love someone not yourself

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

And when I’m gone who will break your fall
Who will you blame
I can’t go on, let you lose it all
More than I can take
Who’ll ease your pain, ease your pain

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
And who will give you strength when you’re not strong
Who’ll watch over you when I’ve gone away

Snow is on the ground, Winter’s come
You long to hear my voice, but I’m long gone

At this time in particular I want to ask these questions of my wife. She has so much going on while I’m away, I need to know she will be safe, and protected from everything and yet I’m powerless to do so. I can only gain strength from the knowledge she has family and friends to lean on in my absence.

I think, of all the songs I’ve sung to myself over the years, this is the one I’d most like to cover. Perhaps not in its original form, but maybe as either the acoustic version seen on the live DVD or, if I could convince someone to play the role, as a duet. A bonus track next year? You never know…

War Songs, Pt. 2: When I’m Gone…

7 September, 2010 Leave a comment

After Iraqi Freedom came Enduring Freedom as the War On Terror trundled on, Op FINGAL became Op HERRICK and our future career paths were mapped for at least a decade. I found myself in Afghanistan with a new trade in a position beyond that which my rank secured and I revelled in it.

This time I believed why we were here, I had a purpose and goals to achieve during the deployment. I had my sights set on promotion, education and experience. I got all 3, although the latter came in ways I’d never expected.

During my tour of duty I made friends with soldiers who faced death every time they left the confines of camp. All of them had experiences they would never discuss, most of them returned home safely with memories they would rather forget and some of them made the journey home under their Nation’s flag unaware they had been carried home by those who honoured their sacrifice. These experiences, and that of losing a friend caused me to write the lyrics to An Ordinary Man on my return. It also made me question my career, my role as a Father, husband and friend.

I’d never heard of 3 Doors Down before my deployment and, had I not worked closely with some US forces I probably wouldn’t have. As it was I received a copy of their album Away From The Sun from the same guy I bought my Ibanez from (yes, I bought a guitar on tour!) and am forever grateful for the discovery.

The straight forward American rock is easy to listen to and original enough prevent it ever sounding stale. The lyrics however, are what had me hooked. This tour was the hardest I’d done so far and, with my doubts over my role, the feelings I had for my family and the thoughts I held regarding all aspects of home they struck a chord. Two in particular seemed to echo my thoughts and feelings at the time, one was When I’m Gone and the other Here Without You. They’re two very different songs, one mainly acoustic, the other much harder and despite the similar sentiments to me they mean very different things. One is full of gratitude for the strength given by someone special and the will to carry on while the other is a promise that, despite all that happens, nothing has changed.  I’ll let you decide which is which…

So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared and love me when I’m gone
Everything I am and everything in me
Wants to be the one you wanted me to be
I’ll never let you down even if I could
I’d give up everything if only for your good
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
You hold me when I’m scared, you won’t always be there
So love me when I’m gone

I’m here without you baby but you’re still on my lonely mind
I think about you baby and I dream about you all the time
I’m here without you baby but you’re still with me in my dreams
And tonight, there’s only you and me
Everything I know and anywhere I go
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love
And when the last one falls and all is said and done
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love

It’s surprising how you can place your life in order through the music you listen to, the effect it had at a particular time and the meaning it inherits from your own feelings when you heard it first. It’s what makes music so special, it’s something different to each and every person who listens.

War Songs, Pt. 1: Shut Up & Sing!

31 August, 2010 Leave a comment
Cover of "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing (F...

Cover via Amazon

It seems much longer, but it was less than a decade ago that I found myself in Camp Arifjan with a little time to waste before moving on up to Camp Fox and beyond as part of the British contingent roped into Operation Iraqi Freedom (OP TELIC to us)…

As usual our Colonial cousins had established an operational footing far beyond the scope of any that a deployed British force would ever be capable of. Among the Baskin Robbins, Subway, Pizza Hut and Korean takeaway there was a PX store which made every EFI store I have ever come across look like the tuck shops run out of the 4 tonners to boost Sqn funds!

Needless to say I made the most of the situation and purchased DVDs and CDs galore. These were the days before ‘global’ releases so the Americans had films and music we hadn’t been able to get our hands on yet.

As far as I can recall I bought Garfield for the little ones, another DVD for ‘Cole and a CD for Rose, all of which were posted home as we didn’t know when we’d be getting home from this tour. This all sounds somewhat un-memorable however the CD I bought for Rose was one which would widen my musical tastes/awareness and cause more than a little bit of a stir back home!

I’d always related the genre of Country Music with the likes of Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and all those famous crooners which we all know. I’d never heard the terms bluegrass, alt country or the like, or if I had I’d dismissed them off-hand. All that was about to change.

What was the CD I bought? It was ‘Home’ by the Dixie Chicks and remains, to this day, one of my most played albums. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the controversy they had caused (or were about to) and didn’t even listen to the album before I sent it home.

Several months later, once we’d ‘won the war’, and I returned home I was greeted by a tirade of abuse when I asked Rose if she liked the album! Among the gems included on the album was a track called ‘Travelin’ Soldier‘, a song about a young girl who had fallen for a soldier bound for Vietnam and the waited for his return only to hear his name read out in a list of the fallen at a local football game.

All this sounds a little ‘twee’ but unless you’ve been in the situation of a wife, husband, partner, parent or child waiting for news from your loved one who is, as far as your mind is concerned, in mortal danger 24 hours of every day they are deployed you will not feel the emotion the lyrics of this song can stir.

One Friday night at a football game, the Lord’s prayer said and the anthem sang
A man said “Folks, would you bow your heads for a list of local Vietnam dead”
Cryin’ all alone under the stands was a piccolo player in the marchin’ band
And one name read and nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

The song still makes my hairs stand on end, as do several others on the album. I have since become a huge fan of Martie Maguire, Emilie Robison and Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks, all the more so because of their stand (albeit unintended) as spokespersons against the Iraq conflict, and their fight to re-establish their position after being ostracised by most of redneck America.

I cannot recommend their music highly enough. Tracks such as ‘Top of the World‘, ‘Godspeed‘, ‘Taking The Long Way‘, ‘Not Ready To Make Nice‘ and ‘Easy Silence‘ are highlights of an amazingly strong back catalogue.

Don’t trust me, check them out for yourself, and if you want to hear the song Travelin’ Soldier in all its glory check out the documentary Shut Up & Sing or the concert DVD An Evening with the Dixie Chicks, you won’t regret it.

And from one of those songs I’d like to send this to my youngest, my son Wilson, who has just suffered his first major loss in life:

The Rocket Racer’s all tuckered out
Superman’s in pyjamas on the couch
Goodnight moon will find the mouse
And I love you
Godspeed little man
Sweet dreams little man
Oh my love will fly to you each night on angel’s wings
Godspeed
Sweet Dreams

It never ceases to amaze me how someone elses words can have such a profound effect on me. It is a gift I admire and one I hope someday to attain in my own work.

And so it begins…

12 August, 2010 Leave a comment

Things have gone fairly well, and in our favour, over the last few days. The flight was delayed 24 hours which meant an extra day with my wife and children, the transfer in Cyprus was delayed an hour so there was ample time to start the browning process before the final leg, and the induction days were significantly shorter than we were led to believe they were going to be. Which can never be a bad thing, can it?

Actually, in this case it did not bode well… Finishing early today did not result in the hour’s roasting session followed by an upper body blast as hoped. Instead it meant I was available to start work 18 hours early! Yup, as ever, the best laid plans fail to survive first contact with the enemy!

The only annoying thing so far has been the lack of contact with the ‘real world’ (henceforth to be called RW) and the inability of the bloody system to recognise my WiFi login 48 hours after I registered it. This hasn’t been the only reason I couldn’t get online, but it has been the most palatable.

I was here in 2007 and I wrote a journal/diary at that time which made very clear how hard it could be dealing with incoming Chinooks… 3 years on and it has not become any easier. There were 3 flew into that HLS in the middle of camp yesterday and the flags were again flying at half mast last night. It didn’t take long for the reality to hit home when I heard the first ‘wocka, wocka’ this morning…

To top it all off I haven’t even listened to any music since I arrived! I meant to chill a little last night but having been on the go for 36 hours by the time we actually finished the day’s work I lay down at 19:00 and didn’t surface again until 04:45 when we started today’s sessions.

Hopefully I’ll get to post this tomorrow and, having started the normal working routine I’ll manage to get some time to start the ‘real’ work at hand! I can but live in hope!

09/08/2010

I know this was meant to be published on Sunday, but I do have a much better excuse for not handing in my homework than the proverbial dog!

12/08/2010

Hmmm… 3 days on and I’m only just managing to get back online… Ah well, at least the time’s passing quickly!  I’ve met friends from across the years already and have settled in to what looks like being a very challenging few months.

Op Minimise has been on more than off since we arrived in Theatre and today we’ve heard of a Mercian who died from his injuries back in the UK. It’s hard to justify this, to anyone, let alone the families and comrades of the fallen.

I finally managed to get in touch with home yesterday, that was an emotional experience… Some quiet time was called for.  I’ve taken every opportunity to listen to music over the last day or two, some of the lyrics seem particularly pertinent.

A Few Words For The Dead:

Somewhere in history you were wronged
Teach your children to bang the drum
Tell all your family, tell all your friends
Teach your brothers to avenge

Steve Hogarth, Marillion.

Expect a full update on Sunday ;o)

So long… And thanks for all the Fish!

2 August, 2010 1 comment

I intended to write a lengthy blog yesterday about the acoustic Fish show I attended a fortnight ago and the Peter Green/Mostly Autumn gig I was meant to attend at the weekend.

Unfortunately Mr Green is very ill and all future shows have been cancelled/rescheduled so I didn’t get to attend that one, a shame as I was looking forward to the opportunity to say goodbye to Liv, Bryan and everyone else before I go, and thank them for their support earlier in the year during our tour.

I did, however, attend an excellent show by Fish with some good friends. It was great to see the big man so relaxed on stage, comfortable as ever, and stretching the vocal chords a little after his recent scares. He is as self-deprecating as ever and was on good form for the entire night… Highlights for me? Pilgrim’s Address and my wife forgetting the lyrics to the 3rd verse of Just Good Friends (our wedding song!) as soon as Fish handed her the mic to sing along! A brilliant show and we topped the night off with a few drinks with the Judge and Fish in Stone Roses. Good times.

I had intended to see so many people before heading off later this week but, as usual, time has caught up with me and I find myself chasing my tail as is often the case after so much time has been spent planning for the unexpected.

If I haven’t been in touch to say goodbye, and you think I should have, then I apologise. On the other hand I’m sure you’ll appreciate that my focus these last few weeks has been my wife and children.

It may seem strange but, after all the training and planning, I’m actually looking forward to getting out there and getting on with the job at hand. I’m sure time will fly and I’ll be back with those  I need and love in what will seem like no time at all… In the mean time I intend to take every spare moment to read (for inspiration) and write material for the album which the guys will be recording in my absence.

We’ve already begun 3 tracks with two completed to guide vocal stage and one at the concept stage, I have several additional ‘streams’ I’m following and Pete and I have discussed what direction we’re aiming for. All in all it should be an interesting time.

I’ll be in touch…